Posted by: mcgratha | February 18, 2011

There is an ECM App for that

I foresee significant changes coming on the horizon around how we build ECM solutions. These changes will start bubbling up over the next 2 years and will accelerate in years 3-5, at which point how we build and assemble ECM solutions will be very different to how we currently do it.

I think that the catalyst behind these changes will be the ‘Apps’ concept, specifically Apps created for ECM and more than likely based on the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) standard.

I initially raised this idea in my Spawning of a new construction boom post. In this follow-on post, I further explore how the ECM Apps concept might play out and consider its implications.

The Mobile App Market

The growth in the number of apps developed and downloaded in the mobile market (primarily Apple and Android) has been truly extraordinary. The Apple App store has been live for just over 2½ years and there are already over 350,000 apps available, which between them have been downloaded over 10 billion times.

Mobile Apps Market

The combined effort behind the development of these apps in such a short period of time is quite staggering. No one company (including Apple) could ever dream of achieving such a result. And the great thing is that all of these apps can plug and play into your iPhone (and most of them into your iTouch and iPad).

What I find intriguing to consider is if a similar pattern behind the development of the mobile app market could be replicated in the ECM market (but with obviously less numbers). Then consider it going one step further if the same ECM app could run on multiple ECM products, the equivalent of the same mobile app running on an Apple iPhone, Android phone,  Blackberry and Windows Phone (rather than it being developed separately for each mobile platform). If this could happen, then wow, there is going to be one hell of a shake-up in how ECM solutions are built and assembled.

The ECM App Market

There is already a large and thriving developer community across most of the leading ECM vendors, from the larger mainstream ECM vendors such as Open Text, Oracle, EMC and IBM to the open source vendors such as Alfresco and Drupal. Developers in these communities actively develop and share (and sell) code snippets, components, modules and applications that are designed to work with their ECM of choice. The obvious limitation here is that the software developed can only be deployed on to the ECM system that it was designed for.

However, CMIS introduces the possibility of developing software for ECM once and reusing it many times. As such, it is not unreasonable to think that a logical next step across the ECM development communities would be to gradually transition their software to support CMIS and then upload it into a wider ECM marketplace. This idea is illustrated in the diagram below.

ECM Apps impact

There would need to be a critical mass of ECM apps available in the marketplace to create a compelling reason for organisations to alter how they build and assemble their ECM solutions. This critical mass might not come about until the next major version of CMIS is released (couple of years?). However, when it happens then we could find:

  • ECM apps being used to plug gaps in vendor ECM products and to enhance/replace existing product functionality with better functionality provisioned through the app;
  • ECM systems connecting with enterprise business systems such as SAP and Oracle eBusiness Suite through common ECM app adapters;
  • New, sleek and sophisticated user interfaces available for ECM products, leveraging multiple ECM apps and running entirely independent from the underlying ECM system;
  • A significant increase in the number of discrete business applications developed (due to economies of scale of develop once and sell many times) providing functionality such as Case Management, Freedom of Information discovery and Contract Management.

Some of the key implications that spring to mind should this all happen are:

  • End-user organisation – Reduced costs, faster development, greater agility, less risk, greater focus on business needs;
  • ECM Vendors – Pricing models will need to change, significant increase in SaaS and cloud based solutions, many ECM vendors will need to switch their focus to provide products that move up the information value chain;
  • System Integrators – Opportunity to re-use development effort from previous projects and assemble into more innovative solutions.

If you’ve taken the time to read this post then thank you, and I would really love to hear your views on what I’ve written.

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Responses

  1. Hi Adrian,

    this is not aspirational, it’s a reality! You can already download an ECM front-end app for the iPhone (http://snappfiles.snapps.com/) that connects to IBM’s FileNet P8 platform or Lotus Quickr/Domino. Similarly there is a generic Android CMIS browser (http://code.google.com/p/android-cmis-browser/). What will be even more interesting, is to start seeing real LOB vertical apps being developed for mobile devices, that embed CMIS connectivity by default.

    Regards
    George

  2. Hi Adrian,

    I’m sure you aware that OpenText have a product called OpenText Everywhere. This allows users to use the Content Server from a mobile. We have interfaces for Blackberry/iPhone and IPad right now.

    I’d encourage any OpenText Content Server (formerly Livelink) users to take a peak at OpenText Everywhere.

    Thanks,

    Anthony

  3. Thanks very much George and Anthony for your comments. I was aware of Open Text Everywhere but not Snappfiles.

    George, I think it is still aspirational – only small aspects of the picture I painted in my post above is reality … especially with respect to actual customer implementations live right now.

    Snappfiles only provides a mobile front-end app to access content in the underlying IBM FileNet or Lotus Quickr/Domino systems. Same for Open Text Everywhere, but it connects to Open Text Content Server. Although they are both examples of excellent and exicting advances in this area, they are only touching the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I am talking about above. However, they are both 100% a step in the right direction and I hope they will help accelerate progress towards the bigger picture.

    Best regards,

    Adrian

  4. Agreed on both counts of Snapfile and OT Everywhere – they are a drive in the right direction, but specific to a vendor. In the snapfile case probably slightly less so, as it’s not produced by IBM but a thid party.

    However the Android CMIS browser I posted above, is genric and should connect to ANY CMIS repository, which I think gets even closer to what you are describing.

    My personal view on CMIS is divided – I think it’s a great opportunity to move the ECM game above the repository and focus on the real value-add components that add value on the business end of ECM. But I also think that in doing so it commoditises the repository, forcing all repositories to work to the least common denominator; which in turn means that vendors may still try and work around the standard, to be able to differentiate themselves.


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